Today concludes 206UP’s Year End feature on the Best Seattle Hip Hop Albums of 2013. Below the jump you’ll find the blog’s Top 10 Albums of the Year (including a master list of all the albums considered at the very bottom of the post). Click on the album artwork or artist-titles for links to download or purchase.
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Raz’s debut EP, Solomon Samuel Simone, is only five tracks in length, but it contains more raw emotion and harrowed despair than most records three times its length. That’s all due to the MC who claims he was once told his raspy voice would be his undoing as a hip hop artist. That voice has become Raz’s official calling card, and he uses it to deliver lyrical body blows about a street life as tenuous as a knife balanced on edge-point.
On “Sometimes I Don’t”, Raz recites a laundry list of bad behavior that he sometimes engages in, and other times he intentionally walks away from. This rapper contains multitudes and, like Pac before him, his most provocative trait is often the massive contradictions contained in his rhymes. Occasionally those artists come along whom you can tell would benefit, emotionally, from escaping the confines of their own minds. Raz reminds me of that type. The hard lesson in hip hop is that it would be a much less interesting place if artists like him truly found that liberation.
“These Kids Throw Rocks” – Raz
Yirim Seck is an under-appreciated voice in Seattle rap. His Audio D’oeurves is a well-commissioned EP of eight tracks, a grip of which were produced by Australian Ta-Ku. The overarching theme here is forward movement, evident in the mid-tempo boom-bap and Yirim’s tireless proclamations on love for “the art” and the fairer sex. The rapper’s last proper release, Hear Me Out (2009), was the portrait of a working class everyman with an MC skill set that outpaced most others. Audio D’oeurves is more of the same. It’s not shiny or groundbreaking, but you’d be hard pressed to find an MC technician with as good a mic handle as Yirim Seck.
“Guess Who” – Yirim Seck
Kung Foo Grip has graduated from a pair of highly excitable battle rappers to a duo with insight and well-constructed bars. That growth does not preclude Eff is H and Greg Cypher from making some of the most exciting, combustible hip hop in Seattle, however. Growing Up In The Future is the pair coming of age while simultaneously staking claim to being the dopest in their Eastside (Kirkland) environs. “Out Of My Element” is urban/suburban ennui as viewed through the lens of the marginalized youth, and “Tuskegee” is high-strung brag rap featuring Moor Gang’s cleanup hitter Jarv Dee and Brooklyn’s up-and-coming Kris Kasanova.
“Tuskegee” – Kung Foo Grip (feat. Jarv Dee & Kris Kasanova)
Nacho Picasso branches out sonically on High & Mighty, which makes for his best release since 2011’s For The Glory. Nowhere to be found on H&M are common collaborators Blue Sky Black Death, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the atmosphere is lighter. Here we have out-of-Towners Swish and Swiff D providing gothic, trap-inspired soundscapes, in addition to local heavyweights Vitamin D and Jake One on more densely composed beats.
And of course Nacho, possessor of the most recognizable voice in Seattle right now, is in rare form, laying out his bleak philosophy on life on “Crime Waves”, making (ahem) fowl assertions on the opposite sex on “Duck Tales”, and laying out the skeletons in his closet on the emotionally bare “Alpha Jerk”. In 2012, it was often difficult to see the forest for the trees in Nacho Picasso and BSBD’s collabs: too many clouds shrouding the deeper layers of the rapper’s complex psyche. High & Mighty, though, is a step through the looking glass, lyrically and beat-wise, and it results in a much more intricate picture.
“Alpha Jerk” – Nacho Picasso (feat. 10iseewilliams)
Producer/MC Key Nyata carries the Rvdxr Klvn flag in the Pacific Northwest region of their dominion, and the rap scene here is benefiting from it. Electronic howls, muted explosions, piano keys in the dark, and of course trunk-rattling low end, are Key’s calling cards. The Shadowed Diamond‘s left-of-center aesthetic is definitely the star of the show, though Key Nyata’s prayerful shit-talk adds additional shades of color. Witness him dismiss “wave riding” hipsters on the title track, and non-apologetically recount his hustler days alongside Fresh Espresso’s P Smoov on “We Dwell on Planet E4rth”.
“My Way” – Key Nyata (feat. Nacho Picasso & Avatar Darko)
RA Scion dropped two full-length albums this year, opposites in sonic style. His collaboration with New York producer Rodney Hazard, The Sickle & The Sword, was all meditative, ambient hip hop experimentalism. This blog, however, preferred the grimier (by comparison) excursion Adding To The Extra, with Tacoma producer Todd Sykes. AttE featured rough-around-the-edges boom-bap, heavy on samples and dusty break beats, ideal for RA’s 99 percent-leaning bootstrap rap. It can take hours to untangle Ryan Abeo’s dense wordplay, but the exercise is worth it if only to reveal how deftly he laces tales of the working class into tightly-wound, philosophical rhymes.
“Guttersnipe Bridge” – RA Scion & Todd Sykes
I have no insight into producer Def Dee’s Gmail inbox, but I would hazard a guess that it’s full of earnest requests for beats from rappers who probably have no business rhyming over them. Def is like that uber-talented sketch artist you see posted up on a sidewalk bench, drawing hyper-real pictures of what he sees in front of him. Except Def makes hip hop sketches that bring to mind the producers that built the very foundation of boom-bap: Pete Rock, DJ Premier, J Dilla — you know, guys you’ve probably heard once or twice before.
Mello Music Group heard what 206UP hears in Def Dee’s beats, and promptly added him to their storehouse of talented beatmakers last year. 33 and a Third is his first compilation for MMG and the guest list includes a corps of Seattle rap’s best (Mic Phenom, La, Grynch, OC Notes, Chev, Zar) in addition to a grip of national underground talent (yU, Oddisee, Black Milk, etc.). Def is that type of producer whose interludes you actually look forward to, the kind where you can practically smell the hip hop elements cooking in his kitchen. Chopped up samples and scratched records: There will never be a more satisfying combo.
“Drugs Outside Again” – Def Dee (feat. Black Milk, Mic Phenom & La)
Somehow, albums that feature rappers JFK and Onry Ozzborn manage to find their way onto this blog’s annual lists, even if the album in question doesn’t find the two sharing the same track listing. (Last year, Onry’s side project, Dark Time Sunshine, won the top spot. This year, JFK’s side project, Th3rdz, is an honorable mention.) There may be something about how the pair’s lyrical styles, especially as they coexist in duo Grayskul, manage to circumvent the conscious part of your listening brain and burrow into the section of gray matter that composes your subconscious. Is it actually mind control that causes them to be in 206UP’s favor every year?
Supernatural and sci-fi themes have been tantamount in Grayskul’s musical history, but Zenith finds JFK and Onry staying closer to terra firma than ever before. As the two age, decidedly earthbound issues like children and romantic relationships rise to the forefront, but don’t dare call this “dad rap”. The trick to being Grayskul seems to lie in the unique ability to speak on just about any issue — worldly and otherwise — in beautifully oblique and coded poetry.
“I Adapt” – Grayskul (feat. Soliloquists of Sound & NyQwil)
Porter Ray is the most buzzed-about MC in Seattle these days and this trio* of albums shows why. Lofty comparisons have been thrown around — “raps like Nas”, “the next Ishmael Butler” — but when it all shakes out, the best thing about Porter is that he doesn’t really sound like anyone else rapping in the Town. BLK/WHT/RSE GLD is not your garden variety rap debut, the kind of record looking to chart on Billboard and rack up hits on YouTube. Porter takes his time, laying out visceral, observational bars about inner city life, over dense, elemental beats featuring dusty percussion and rare sample flips. To draw yet another comparison, Porter’s rhyme ethos shares much in common with Earl Sweatshirt’s: Both are still-budding MCs whose only fear seems to be making mediocre hip hop. The youth is not wasted on Porter Ray.
*Yes, BLK GLD, WHT GLD and RSE GLD were technically three separate releases, but they all embody the same style and mindset, and all of the tracks were recorded during the same studio sessions. If this bothers you, then just know that BLK GLD alone would have occupied the number two slot on this list.
“Blackberry Kush” – Porter Ray
So you crave diversity in your music, do you? No other album on this list served up more styles than The Physics’ Digital Wildlife. Take two parts hip hop, one part neo soul and a rich amalgam of EDM, pop and R&B, and you have the formula for the most refined Seattle hip hop record of the year. And I still say “hip hop” because even though DW‘s influences run the gamut of contemporary musical styles of the moment, its spirit is still grounded in beats and rhymes.
In-house producer Justo betrays his boom-bap roots on tracks like “No Tellin” even as a 21st century synth pulse lights the way. And rapper Thig Nat’s nonchalant braggadocio and hustle-to-eat aspirant lyrics reveal his deep lineage as an MC, even as he tries his hand at singing on “Fix You” the albums’ centerpiece track. On Digital Wildlife, The Physics set out to explore the relationship between digital and analog recording techniques and, in the process, created a shining example of how tremendously vital Seattle rap can be.
“Fix You” – The Physics
The following is a master list of all the records that were under consideration this year. Collect the whole damn set!
|Araless||Spur of the Moment Beatdown|
|Art Vandelay||Eye 8 The Crow|
|Avatar Darko||Soviet Goonion II: Caviar Cartel|
|Avatar Darko||Boris The Blade EP|
|AyeLogics||Odd Man Out|
|Blue Sky Black Death||Euphoric Tape II|
|Blue Sky Black Death||Glaciers|
|Brainstorm||The Celestine Prophecy 2|
|Brother Ali & Jake One||Left In The Deck|
|Brothers From Another||Tacos On Broadway|
|Cam The Mac||West Shit|
|Cam The Mac||2HUNNIDx6|
|Dave B||The Coffee EP|
|Def Dee||33 and a 1/3|
|Havi Blaze||Self Portrait|
|Ka.lil||Between Friday Night and Saturday Morning|
|Ka.lil||Between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning|
|Key Nyata||The Shadowed Diamond|
|Keyboard Kid||Based In The Rain 3|
|Kung Foo Grip||Growing Up In The Future|
|Larry Hawkins & Davey Jones||Butterfly Sauce|
|Livio||Can I Liv|
|Malitia Malimob||Idi Amin Project|
|Mega Evers||No Concept|
|Nacho Picasso||High & Mighty|
|Nacho Picasso & Avatar Darko||Vampsterdam|
|Nottus Tre||The Methadone Musical|
|Perry Porter||Kings Only|
|Peta Tosh||Still Different|
|Phil Harmonic||Drones EP|
|Porter Ray||BLK GLD|
|Porter Ray||RSE GLD|
|Porter Ray||WHT GLD|
|RA Scion & Rodney Hazard||The Sickle & The Sword|
|RA Scion & Todd Sykes||Adding to the Extra|
|Raz||Solomon Samuel Simone|
|Romaro Franceswa||Romaro Franceswa|
|Royce The Choice||Talk Ain’t Cheap|
|Sadistik||Flowers For My Father|
|Sax G||Tu Me Manques|
|Shelton Harris & Tyler Dopps||The Fresh Start|
|Sneak Guapo||Suicide Capitol|
|Spaceman||Beyond The Stars|
|Spekulation||Doc Watson The Instrumental Album|
|Spekulation||Truth Be Told|
|Steezie Nasa||Moor Militia|
|GMK||Sweatshorts and Slushies|
|TH3RDZ||This That & Th3rdz|
|Thaddeus David||Moor Than Less|
|The Bad Tenants||Eloquent Scoundrels Vol. 2|
|The Physics||Digital Wildlife|
|THEESatisfaction||…Loves Erykah Badu|
|THEESatisfaction||And That’s Your Time|
|Turtle T||Of Love & Lust|
|Underworld Dustfunk||Bars & Bullets|
|Underworld Dustfunk||Underworld Dustfunk|
|Xperience||The Revelations EP|
|Yirim Seck||Audio D’oeuvres|
|Young Diffy & Ju-Ju Twist||We Strizzy Boi|
|Zar & Def Dee||Zulu Delta|